Commerce.gov is getting a facelift soon. See the new design.
Syndicate content

Blog Category: Spotlight on Commerce

Spotlight on Commerce: Helena Carapellatti, Statistician, U.S. Census Bureau

Helena Carapellatti was awarded a 2012 Public Service Recognition Award for Diversity Champion and Leadership by Census Director Bob Groves and Deputy Director & Chief Operation Officer Tom Mesenbourg, Jr.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Helena Carapellatti, Statistician, U.S. Census Bureau

I work as a statistician in the Human Resources Division at the U.S. Census Bureau and my responsibilities include reporting on Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results for the bureau and working on policies and issues related to excepted-service field data collection employees.

I grew up on the Navajo reservation spanning parts of New Mexico and Colorado. We lived off the grid and were ranchers with livestock that needed daily attention. Summers meant camping on the outer parts of our land and sleeping under a blanket of stars.  We explored on horseback and lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle free from the world outside the traditional Navajo culture. This lifestyle meant my brothers and I learned to be responsible and self-sufficient at an early age. Being the only girl in the family meant I had to be fearless if I wanted to keep up with all my brothers.

When I graduated high school, there were no opportunities on the reservation so I enlisted in the military. The military offered me an opportunity to pursue higher education and to serve in an honorable profession. I started going to school part-time and got an Associates degree in Logistics with the Community College of the Air Force. Later I got a B.S., in Social Science with a minor in Journalism. I made some lasting friendships and after 25 years, I retired and completed my M.A. in Applied Sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Outside the workplace, I help my husband with our small business most weekends. When you are in business, you have to be willing to adapt so you can provide the type of service that sets you apart.  We have to network, be informed and sensitive to the economy just like our customers so it is a constant balancing act to remain competitive in an ever-changing market.

Spotlight on Commerce: Gabriel Sanchez, Improving Operational Efficiency Program Manager, U.S. Census Bureau

Gabriel Sanchez, Improving Operational Efficiency Program Manager, U.S. Census Bureau

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Gabriel Sanchez, Improving Operational Efficiency Program Manager, U.S. Census Bureau

The Improving Operational Efficiency (IOE) program at the U.S. Census Bureau harvests ideas from employees and brings cost saving and efficiency-improving innovation to executive staff for possible investment. The program has invested in 109 projects in the last three years and saved more than $32 million. I am currently revamping the program to streamline and improve metrics, objectives, performance and the harvesting of ideas.

There are several overarching themes within my current responsibilities that relate to the President’s blueprint for America — innovation, efficiency, saving money, avoiding costs, streamlining processes, and creating projects that add strategic value to the organization. By spurring innovation and improving operational efficiency, my program helps government run more efficiently and do more with less.

In my varied career since joining the Department of Commerce in 1998, I have worked in five of the Census Bureau’s12 regional offices as well as the headquarters building in Suitland, Md. My previous position — director of the Dallas Regional Office — was the most challenging, as at the peak of operations during the 2010 Census, it had 111,000 employees in 51 local census offices. I led the enumeration of more than 33 million people while dealing with 45 congressional districts and four of the 10 most populous cities in the country.

I was born in Uruguay and immigrated to the United States at the age of eight. I was raised in New York City, but I have been fortunate to live in various places around the country, which helped ratchet down the big city experience. I was very proud of my heritage when I became the first-ever foreign-born regional director of the Census Bureau. Still, I keep searching for another Uruguayan in the Commerce Department.

Spotlight on Commerce: Jorge Ponce, Director of the Policy and Evaluation Division, Department of Commerce Office of Civil Rights

Jorge Ponce, Director Policy and Evaluation Division, Office of Civil Rights U.S. Department of Commerce

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Jorge Ponce, Director Policy and Evaluation Division, Office of Civil Rights U.S. Department of Commerce

Cuba is my birth place. My parents, my sister and I left our homeland for the United States when I was 11 years old in search of freedom. No, I did not come in a raft as I have strong allergies to shark-infested waters! While most people think that if you are Cuban, you must be from Cuban Mecca Miami, I am an anomaly to this assumption. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and attended St. Thomas More Elementary School, Bishop O’Connell High School, and graduated from Washington-Lee High School. Subsequently, I attended George Mason University, and completed my graduate studies at Catholic University.   

This year’s celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month is an important one in our history as we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the landing of Juan Ponce de Leon in Florida.

I consider myself to be a civil rights champion. As such, I’ve co-chaired the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives from 2001 to 2012, and maintained its webpage. I have met with the top leadership of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management regularly to address civil rights issues in the Federal Government.  

Spotlight on Commerce: Frederick Steckler, Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Frederick Steckler, Chief Administrative Officer, USPTO

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Frederick Steckler, Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

As the Chief Administrative Officer for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) I am responsible for the delivery of all administrative service support functions for the USPTO including human capital strategy, human resource management, telework policy and programs, facilities management, safety and security, transportation, asset and records management.  I am fortunate to work with a team of nearly 200 professionals in the delivery of these vital services to our colleagues at the USPTO.  My team and I pride ourselves on being a customer-centric and service-oriented team.  

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and when I was nine years old, after one particularly bad Cleveland winter, my mother, grandmother and I moved to Boca Raton, Florida. So I really grew up there.  I am a proud graduate of Boca Raton Community High School.  

After high school, I attended Duke University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in economics. Growing up near the water led to being interested in a career with the U.S. Navy. I was a member of the Duke Navy ROTC battalion and upon graduation was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. My first station was as part of the commissioning crew of the USS Vandegrift (FFG-48). I later went on to serve as Second Company Officer at the U.S. Naval Academy and Executive Assistant to The Commandant of Midshipmen. I left the Navy in 1989 and went to work as a junior consultant for Coopers & Lybrand and while working earned a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University. Today, I am married to my partner of 20 years, Robert Murphy, and we live in the District of Columbia with our black lab, Sammi Jo.

Spotlight on Commerce: Ronald Lorentzen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Import Administration, ITA

Photo of Lorentzen at his desk

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Ronald Lorentzen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Import Administration, International Trade Administration

As the career official responsible for the day-to-day management of Import Administration, I perform many roles: making the budgetary ends meet; acting as policy adviser plenipotentiary; being an “executive sponsor” of various projects; and serving frequently as a diplomatic counselor or empathetic ear to our organization’s staff and external stakeholders.

Import Administration’s core mission is to administer our nation’s antidumping and countervailing duty laws, which provide a remedy–typically, via a special import tariff–to help U.S. industries that are injured as a result of unfairly traded imports.  These remedies are determined through quasi-judicial investigations conducted under the close scrutiny of the courts and the World Trade Organization. While the process is sanctioned by international trade rules and receives broad support from the Congress, the outcome of any given investigation can displease the domestic industry, the foreign exporters, the foreign government(s) and–in many cases–all of the above. You have to have a thick skin to do my kind of work. But the work itself can be intellectually fascinating, impinging upon some of the most controversial trade policy issues and of make-or-break importance to the survival of many U.S. businesses and the livelihoods of many Americans.

How did I get here? I was born in northeastern Ohio and grew up in Indiana and Illinois, graduating from Bradley University in Peoria, IL, with a B.A. in French and international relations. I had no clue when I was in high school that one could specialize in such a field, but I think that my sense of being “different” led me to explore that possibility and the options that it might present. That led to a junior year of college at the Sorbonne in Paris, which in turn convinced me that I must continue in this field and find another chance at further study abroad. I was accepted by the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies M.A. program and packed my bags for a year at SAIS’s center in Bologna, Italy, with my second year bringing me to Washington–my home ever since. I can see more clearly now that my scholarly interests spoke to the calling that I had to understand and interact with people of different cultures, but the experience of living abroad was profoundly transformative in liberating me from my own, often self-imposed limitations as a gay man.

Spotlight on Commerce: Sharon Yanagi, Chief of Staff, Bureau of Industry and Security

Photo of Sharon Yanagi, Chief of Staff, Bureau of Security and Industry

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Ms. Sharon Yanagi, Chief of Staff, Bureau of Security and Industry

For over three years, I have served as the Chief of Staff at the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the U.S. Commerce Department agency charged with administering the nation’s dual use export control system. In that capacity, I advise the Bureau Under Secretary on a range of policy, management and operations issues. I work closely with BIS leaders on Congressional and industry outreach and education designed to build support for the Bureau’s overarching policy initiative, the Export Control Reform Initiative. It is a major update of the U.S. export control system which will enhance both our national security and our economic competitiveness.  

In 2010, I was recruited back to BIS, having served there as Congressional and Public Affairs Director during the Clinton administration. At that time, we also tried to reform the U.S. export control system, which has not been comprehensively updated since the end of the Cold War. As Congressional director, I was part of a team that spent two years and hundreds of hours working to reauthorize our legislative authority–and in 1994, we failed. It’s not often that you fail to attain a major goal and are given the chance to try again. That is why I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work toward this important and long overdue policy goal in this administration.


Spotlight on Commerce: Peggy Leung-Dombrowski, Acting Chief Learning Officer, Office of Human Resources Management

Portrait of Peggy Leung-Dombrowski

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Ms. Peggy Leung-Dombrowski, Acting Chief Learning Officer, Office of the Secretary

I was born and raised in Hong Kong (China), also known as Pearl of the East. Fifteen years ago, I would never have dreamt of working for one of the United States Government Cabinet level agencies, serving the American people, and working side by side with the brightest professionals in the Learning and Development (L&D) field. 

My father, who was a retired language translator for the British Government in Hong Kong by day, a professor at the University of Hong Kong by night, taught me the values of integrity, working hard, and perseverance. My father’s dictum was “People may steal your money but no one can ever take knowledge away from you.” He always encouraged me to travel and see the world, which allowed me to experience life in Australia, Canada, and the United States first hand. Then, I settled down in Virginia, pursued my passion, and received my Master of Education in Instructional Technology from George Mason University, which provided me the competencies to work in the L&D arena. 

Before joining public service in 2001, I worked in the private sector as a trainer, Instructional System Designer, and Training Manager. After serving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for  eight years, I began my career in the Department of Commerce (DOC) in 2009. At Commerce, I am the Acting Chief Learning Officer, Chair of the Department’s Chief Learning Officers Council, serving all the bureaus of the Department. My responsibilities include making recommendations on training development direction, including Leadership Development, to support our workforce; managing the implementation, development, quality assurance, and extended application of the enterprise Learning Management System; and providing Department training policies, processes and procedures guidance. Throughout my Commerce career, I have been supported by many mentors and managers, including Dr. Fred Lang, and Tyra Dent Smith for their guidance and leadership. I also serve on the Department’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council and am heavily involved in the Department’s D&I learning and retention strategies.

Spotlight on Commerce: Vikrum Aiyer, Special Adviser, USPTO

Portrait of Vikrum Aiyer

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Vikrum Aiyer, Special Adviser to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, USPTO

Some of the most disruptive solutions to the world's most pressing challenges are laid out in applications submitted to our office. And through the review of over half a million proposals for new products and technologies annually, I have the privilege to work alongside a team that helps protect those cutting-edge innovations in the global marketplace, with intellectual property rights.

We all know that the United States faces genuine economic competition in more sectors, from more companies, and from more places than ever before. But in order to write the next chapters of growth and remain the world’s chief global competitor, we must smartly and immediately invest in the very infrastructure that fosters American inventive potential. That’s why the agency has been hard at work to retool our nation’s patent laws from the ground up, making it easier, more cost effective, and more efficient for businesses of all stripes to protect their products and services. 

Being raised in Silicon Valley, and as the son of a physicist spearheading his own enterprise, I recognize that there is no shortage of great ideas in America, but there are barriers to getting those ideas off the ground. So the opportunity to serve as a Special Adviser to the Under Secretary hits especially close to home for me, as I help assess challenges start-ups and technologists face by spearheading our public partnerships with key stakeholders around the country. The role gives me the chance to advise the Under Secretary on how to connect inventors with the tools they need to protect their companies, while also empowering me to publicly frame and communicate how the administration’s intellectual property priorities drive export and manufacturing possibilities in America. 

Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator

Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator

NOAA transforms scientific data about our complex and ever-changing Earth into environmental information that touches every American, protecting their lives and livelihoods against natural hazards, informing their personal and business decisions and supporting wise management of natural resources in our coastal and marine environments. We operate the nation’s weather satellites, and our National Weather Service is the source of all your weather forecasts. Other NOAA units produce the Nation’s nautical charts, manage our marine fisheries and operate America’s underwater national parks, known as National Marine Sanctuaries. As Acting Administrator, I oversee the agency’s work to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, to provide timely, reliable ‘environmental intelligence’ to inform sound decision-making by citizens, businesses and public officials, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

I was lucky to grow up in Southern California at a time when an adventurous young girl could safely roam the open hills and valleys nearby, whetting her appetite for the grander expeditions she hoped to make someday. I was also inspired by the daring feats of America’s first astronauts and the exotic adventures of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, which filled our TV screens and magazines regularly and reinforced just how exciting a life of exploration could be. It never bothered me that everyone I was watching was male. My brother and I were raised with the view that every person has unique talents and interests and should pursue them as they see fit, regardless of what someone else thinks is ‘right’ for girls or boys. This attitude, plus my parents’ unwavering trust and support, inoculated me against the peer pressure I encountered at school and with my neighborhood friends and helped me steer my own course.

Spotlight on Commerce: Geovette Washington, Deputy General Counsel

Geovette Washington, Deputy General Counsel

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Geovette Washington, Deputy General Counsel

Serving as Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Commerce has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences in my career. The people with whom I have worked over the last three years are outstanding. The issues I have dealt with are interesting, challenging, and critical to the Department’s work. Most important, being Deputy General Counsel has presented a wonderful opportunity to fulfill my lifelong commitment to service. 

As Deputy General Counsel, my job is to provide legal advice to the various parts of this Department. However, my role, and the role of all of the attorneys within the Office of the General Counsel, goes well beyond simply providing legal advice to our clients. We work to make sure that the people of the Department do not simply get a review of the legal sufficiency of their work, but also a partner in their mission. That partnership between OGC and the rest of the Department has been a point of emphasis for me during my time at Commerce and is vital to the execution of the President’s vision for creating an America Build to Last. The creativity and dynamic engagement of OGC attorneys helps Commerce agencies execute their plans to build a 21st century America that has the tools, infrastructure, and expertise to thrive.  

Encouraging partnership between OGC and its clients is critical to fostering a ethos of service within OGC, and service–particularly of public service–is something I value highly and was a central tenant of my upbringing.